By Ellen McGirt
Updated: November 15, 2017 4:34 PM ET

Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit wrapped up yesterday, with a panel titled,“The Black Ceiling.”

The panel was a follow-up to a Fortune story of the same name that did a grim duty – it highlighted a deeply disappointing element of the otherwise celebratory ranking of this year’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business,

There was only one black woman on this year’s list, represented by Ann-Marie Campbell, No. 18, Home Depot’s EVP for U.S. stores. And while there was initially an uptick in women CEOs from 2016 — 32 women in CEO jobs, up from 21 in 2016 – there are currently no African American or black women in the top spot.

So while there are cracks appearing in the glass ceiling for other women, for black women, that ceiling is increasingly looking and feeling like cement.

Jamie-Clare Flaherty, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Obama Foundation, Tracey Patterson, Service Delivery Lead, Accenture Operations, and Bärí Williams, the head of business operations for StubHub North America, discussed the challenges they have faced in their careers, calling on black women to ask for what they want and for allies to do better.

“Black women sit at this intersection of both race and gender,” said Patterson. “If we think about the challenges we experience as a woman, being underestimated, trying to raise our voice, this is amplified when you add African-American on top of that.”

All agreed that programs designed to foster female empowerment need to go further in recognizing the challenges unique to African-American women. “Underneath that layer are several different complexities. I think the first step is understanding that layer exists,” said Patterson.

A new understanding of allyship emerged from the room.

Speaking from the audience, Lauren Antonoff, Senior Vice President of Presence and Commerce, GoDaddy, shared candidly about an epiphany she experienced attending a panel on intersectionality at the most recent annual Grace Hopper Celebration. Her dedication to gender parity in tech had largely benefited white women because she held them as a proxy for all women. “They were my ‘default,’” she said. “I thought I was doing the right things, doing the good work.” Intersectionality, in all its forms, is now top of mind for her, as it was for many in the room.

Click here for the video.


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